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Helping families adjust to nursing home care

Aged care workers often take the time to make a new resident feel comfortable when they arrive at a nursing home. But how does it feel for a family member? Nurses don't often pull family members aside and ask how they're coping. The first few weeks can be a struggle for residents, carers and nursing home staff.

Author Kate Sumner believes nursing home staff can help allay the fears of family members in those first few days of nursing home care by trying to better understand what they are going through.

Below is an excerpt from Kate's book "Caring for your elderly parent: A practical guide for Australian families" (published with permission) that caregivers and nurses will hopefully find helpful. You can also find more about the book on her website

How aged care staff can help families make the move easier  

Helping an elderly and frail parent move into an aged care home can be a difficult time for families. If the nursing staff is supportive and understanding and family members feel safe about leaving their beloved parent in their care, it can make the whole thing far easier for everyone involved—including staff'.

Sometimes we forget the enormity of the move from home into a residential care, an unfamiliar and often chaotic environment.

Moving into an aged care home can be emotional and challenging. It can be difficult in the beginning to adjust to:

  • Background noise: In all institutions there is a constant hum of human conversation, buzzers, machinery and so on.
  • Communal Living: It takes time to get used to living together with a group of people, all under one roof.
  • Different kinds of people: Some residents find it hard to adjust to other residents or nursing staff from a different culture or religion, or who speak a different language.
  • Lack of privacy: It can be confronting to share a room or when nursing staff see them naked while showering or toileting (particularly if the resident is female and the nurse is male!).
  • Loss of independence: It can be difficult getting used to having someone else do the things they used to do for themselves, especially if they have always been proud and independent.
  • New routines: They have to get used to getting up and going to bed at certain times, meal times and activities schedules, etc.

The aged care home staff is also getting to know a new resident with unique needs and preferences. It takes a few weeks for nursing staff, your parent and family to get to know one another and establish a care program. New nurses come in for their shift and have to learn the ropes. Things are inevitably complicated and stressful to begin with, even for the most organised families.

In Australia, depending on where the aged care home is located and what communities are living nearby, care staff members are often migrants. The cultures many of these people come from retain an innate respect for the elderly, which they bring to their work. Sometimes when older people first move into care, they get a shock that the person caring for them is not only a stranger, but one who doesn’t necessarily speak English well and who might have brown skin, or some other racial difference. Unfortunately, racism is alive and well. Initially, the home may arrange for someone more acceptable to your parent while they get used to their new surroundings. After experiencing the nurses’ gentleness and respect, most residents eventually accept their help.

To compound the problem, some families take out their feelings of anger, grief, irritation and confusion on nurses. It’s easier to blame others than to accept your own feelings of guilt when things don’t go perfectly. When your parent first moves into care, everyone is getting to know each other; there are bound to be misunderstandings. Things inevitably improve with time.

If the management, residents and their families treat care staff with disrespect and criticise their work, it eventually has a negative impact on residents’ overall care. On the other hand, if staff members are shown the respect and appreciation they deserve for the hard and sometimes thankless work they do, it shows in how well residents are taken care of.

What is your experience of the move into nursing home care? Does your aged care home have a system in place to support families and residents with the transition?